Lack of support for part-time lecturers has been blamed for weaknesses in their teaching . Sue Jones reports
PART-TIME lecturers teach more than a third of college lessons but get far less support than their full-time colleagues, an investigation by further education inspectors reveals.
The investigation was launched after last year's annual Further Education Funding Council chief inspector's report raised concerns about teaching quality.
While part-timers teach at least a third of all lessons, the inspectors identified "fewer strengths in the lessons taught by part-time teachers compared with those taught by full time teachers".
Part-timers with contracts often get less professional support than full-time staff, and lecturers paid hourly get least of all.
Following the investigation, the Government has released pound;2.2 million from the Standards Fund to boost the quality of part-time teaching.
Recommendations range from improvements in basic working conditions to widening participation in teamwork, staff development and training. The findings were released this week in a report, Supporting part-time teachers in further education colleges.
Adequate working space and equipment topped their list of needs, said part time staff interviewed for the survey. Teachers paid hourly complained that they often had no storage space, no desk and frequently found it difficult to get access to computers and photocopiers. One lecturer described working out of the boot of her car. Provision for contract staff was often better, but not always adequate.
Many lecturers choose to work part-time and colleges like the flexibility it gives them. But time constraints and unclear expectations make it more difficult to involve part-time teachers in quality assurance and staff development.
"There is a mismatch between what colleges expect part-time teachers to do and the facilities they provide for them," says the report. Part-timers now have more management responsibilities, especially as course tutors, but specific requirements ned to be clearly stated in their contracts and paid time allocated, it says.
Part-time lecturers can feel isolated, especially when they have to teach on different sites. The inspectors found that "most colleges do not have systematic arrangements for supporting part-time teachers with the production, quality control and sharing of materials".
Although colleges encourage all their staff to pursue professional development, part-time staff are less likely to do so than full-timers. Other jobs or domestic commitments often prevent them from attending courses, even when the college is prepared to support them financially.
The same applies to quality assurance and appraisal. Teachers with part-time contracts, especially those with non-teaching responsibilities, are more likely to be involved in appraisal, but hourly-paid staff are rarely included and seldom have their lessons observed after their first few weeks in teaching.
FEFC chief inspector Jim Donaldson said part-time teachers brought valuable experience to colleges and he hoped that a series of planned regional conferences for college managers - to be run by the Further Education Development Agency later this year - would raise awareness of the issues highlighted by the report.
Geoff Terry, general secretary of the Further Education National Training Organisation, welcomed the report, saying: "We should think of people's roles rather than the proportion of time for which they are employed."
* Clarify what is expected of each member of staff. Extra duties should be rewarded with extra pay.
* Establish proper lines of communication and management, which include face to-face contact.
* Draw up training plans which recognise the variety of responsibilities of part-time teachers.
* Provide teachers with a suitable place to work.
* Involve part-time teachers in the full range of quality assurance
* Make systematic arrangements for the production, quality control and sharing of learning materials.